HL Deb 03 March 1828 vol 18 cc923-5
Lord Clifden

said, he held in his hand a petition from the Catholics of Liverpool; not, however, praying for any thing for themselves, but for the repeal of those laws that injured and insulted the Protestant Dissenters. A noble friend had presented last week, a petition to the same purport from Ireland, and another to the same effect had been presented to the House of Commons, signed by seven thousand Catholics of England, among whom were the first duke and the first earl in the kingdom, five other peers and several baronets. The petition he had now to present was signed by two thousand persons, and the seven first names of those in it were those of Catholic clergymen. He troubled their lordships with this prologue, because it was the fashion to say that the Catholics were enemies to civil and religious liberty. The petitions which had lately been presented from that body were a sufficient answer to that most unjust accusation. The Catholics were now petitioning, not for themselves, but in favour of that class of persons who were thought to be hostile to them. The Test act he considered to be most offensive to every principle of religion. It made the most sacred rite of faith a means for disregarding all faith in order to occupy offices. The noble lord mentioned an instance, as not unlikely to occur, of a man being obliged, from poverty, to fill an office, perhaps worth 150l. or 200l. a year, though he might feel conscientious scruples in qualifying himself for it. Their lordships, he supposed, all remembered the lines of Cowper, and, in repeating them, he would address himself particularly to the right rev. bench opposite:— Hast thou by statute shov'd from its design The Saviour's feast, his own blest bread and wine, And made the symbols of atoning grace An office-key, a picklock to a place, That infidels may prove their title good By an oath dipp'd in sacramental blood? A blot that will be still a blot, in spite Of all that grave apologists may write; And, though a Bishop toil to cleanse the stain, He wipes and scours the silver cup in vain. These laws were enacted in the most disgraceful reign of that most disgraceful monarch Charles 2nd, by the violation of whose declaration at Breda sixty thousand persons were thrown into prison, five thousand of whom had perished. An eloquent writer in the "Edinburgh Review," in a late criticism of Milton's religious work, translated, he had understood, by the present bishop of Winchester, called the two kings, Charles and James, Belial and Moloch; names which they justly deserved. He hoped the day was coming, however, when those most unjust laws would be repealed.

Lord Redesdale

thought the noble lord opposite had made a few mistakes. In the first place, Charles 2nd would have been very glad not to have passed one of those laws of which the noble lord complained; and with respect to a person qualifying himself for office, against his conscience, the fault did not lie in the law, but in the person so doing. The principle upon which those laws were made was, that property could not be safe in any country, unless those in power were interested in its support. In like manner the established church could not be safe, unless those in power were interested in its support. In this country when was that church in danger? It was at that time when the power and the army had got into the hands of those who were hostile to the church. How was it that Henry 8th had been enabled to execute his plans against the monasteries? Because he had a complete control over parliament: he was, in fact, the absolute master of it. He believed the real object of all these applications to parliament, whether coming from Dissenters or Catholics, was the overthrow of the established church. The subject resolved itself into this plain question—would their lordships have an established church? If they would, they must support it. The question was simply a political one, and upon political grounds he would oppose any alterations in the present laws.

Lord King

said, that the learned lord had stated, that the question was totally a political one, yet he seemed very ready to derive all the religious aid he possibly could. The noble lord said, that Charles 2nd was not the maker of these Tests. If Charles was not a maker of Tests, at any rate he was a great taker of them. Charles 2nd, first of all, qualified himself for the crown of Scotland by signing the Covenant. After that, he came to England, and qualified himself for the crown of this country, according to all the ceremonies of the established church, and when on his death-bed, he qualified himself for dying as a true Catholic, by receiving extreme unction. That showed the value of Tests. He did not think that all the learned lord's ingenuity could make out that the church derived any security from the Test laws against bad men. Against good men there was no need for security, and against bad men there was no security in consequence of these laws.

Lord Calthorpe

thought it was the obvious meaning of the oaths alluded to, that they should be taken in a proper manner, instead of which they were made a passport to office. He could scarcely conceive any thing more injurious to the character of the Church of England, than to say that its security mainly depended on acts like those. He thought the continuance of these laws as little consistent with the interests of the Church of England as they were creditable to parliament.

Ordered to lie on the table.